Brisbane, Australia

Thursday, December 26, 2019

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If I'm being completely honest, a huge plus that comes with participating in international case competitions is the privilege of travelling and exploring a new city. It's a blessing to be able to see the world and compete at an undergraduate level. However, having been to Australia multiple times previously, I only had one main objective this trip: for the team do our very best and hopefully get a podium finish at the Australian Undergraduate Business Case Competition 2019 (AUBCC), from 17 - 22 November (i.e. during reading week!) 

Despite our pretty dismal and disappointing training sessions in the last few weeks of an insanely hectic semester, I knew that this was a team that could work really well together - we were friends and understood each others' strengths, weaknesses and motivations. While pressure doesn't necessarily equate to performance, I think the good stress allowed us to peak during the competition this time around.

Anyway, I couldn't really explore Brisbane much at all, as I had to leave on the night of the closing dinner in time for me to sit for a finals examination the next day. We caught a red-eye flight and arrived in Singapore around four hours before my paper. Instead of studying on the plane as I had initially planned, I just knocked out from sheer exhaustion and only managed to revise outside the examination hall. 

As such, my focus all through the week was on the competition and I'd like to apologize for my misleading title - this post will likely feature 10% Brisbane and 90% of the competition itself! Also, all the photos published here are not taken by me and credit goes to the photographers and organizers of AUBCC. I realized that my past blog posts on my international case competition experiences rarely touch on the competition formats in detail. So here's a recap of everything that happened, day by day.

Day 1 

Our team arrived the night before the competition officially started, so we had a free morning & early afternoon to explore a bit of Brisbane. We decided to go for brunch at The Pancake Manor, a short walk from our hotel. While the pancakes weren't anything to shout about (pretty simple buttermilk ones done right and served in humongous portions), the restaurant was housed in this beautiful refurbished cathedral that made the dining experience pretty memorable.

The actual programme for the competition started in the late afternoon with a welcome function at the beautiful Queensland University of Technology (QUT) campus. The competition was co-organised by QUT and the University of New South Wales, and they take turns hosting it - so it alternates  between Sydney and Brisbane each year.

Gorgeous golden hour glow from the QUT campus.

During the welcome function, we met the other teams and had a draw to determine our divisions and direct competing teams for the various rounds of the competition. This competition saw three rounds - a 4-hour boardroom format, a 6-hour presentation format, and a 12-hour presentation format. All three rounds would contribute points to decide the top four teams to proceed to the finals, though the 12-hour presentation took the biggest weight. 

Day 2 (Case I) 

Time for actual case-cracking! The first round was the 4-hour boardroom style, a format that we've been seeing more often in case competitions globally - and also the format that we're the most uncomfortable  and unfamiliar with. Three of us in this team went for the CBS Case Competition in Copenhagen earlier this year, where we were utterly defeated by this presentation style. It requires a more conversational tone of voice and the ability to engage the judges only with one single-sided sheet of paper, a far cry from the insane amount of slides we enjoy building and referring to during the presentation.

I daresay we were the most concerned over our performance for this round and spent a bit of time strategizing for it. The case was on Youngcare, a non-profit organization that focuses on providing appropriate housing for the young with high-care needs, a niche industry of complete unfamiliarity. Of course, four hours was a mad rush to come up with a sound yet creative strategy, and we really had to trust one another and ourselves.

Last minute running through of points prior to entering the presentation room.

Anxiety written all over my face.

After our presentation, I felt a lot more at ease - not because I was sure we did well, but because we did our best. There wasn't the same "oh dear I just bombed that" feeling I felt in Copenhagen this time. I also appreciated that every single round of this competition allowed teams to get feedback from the judges immediately after everyone had presented. This was helpful not just for the competition but for growth and improvement in general. 

In the evening, it was social night at Friday's Riverside, a bar/ restaurant right beside the Brisbane River. There, they announced the results for the first case, and we came out top in our division - truly a huge relief. 

We were later split up into different teams for a game of trivia. My trivia knowledge is really poor and I ended up not really contributing any answers. Kudos to all of my other team members because we somehow ended up winning the game, which meant that we could all get our photos taken with koalas the next day! 

Not the most flattering photograph, I must say. 

Day 3 

The third day of the programme was social day - a day of stress-free fun and sightseeing around Brisbane! Personally, I enjoyed the pace of the social activities they planned for us at AUBCC. It was just right, without being too boring nor overwhelming. Our first stop was Mount Coot Tha, which gave us a panoramic view of the city at risk of sunkissed skin.

All the teams, advisors and organisers!

Next, we headed to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary for lunch and to meet some of Australia's best loved furry animals! (Alright, the sanctuary housed aquatic animals and reptiles as well, but I was really there to meet all the plush toy lookalikes hehe). 

Kanga, is that you? (Almost wanted to type, "Kanga, is that Roo?" but decided to restrain myself).

Not giving me the attention I so yearn for unless I had food in my hands.

This chonky kid was surprisingly heavy and I was pretty nervous carrying it.

While I can't call myself an animal lover because I still eat meat and that would be completely hypocritical, my heart definitely still has a soft spot for animals (yes, yes, there is a dissonance here that I acknowledge I'm running away from). Thus, I'm not the biggest fan of animal tourism and I honestly wouldn't have taken my photograph with the koala if not for my team winning trivia the previous day. 

However,  it was evident that this place treated their animals with so much care, swapping out the koalas as long as they displayed signs of not wanting to take photographs anymore. I was really glad to learn through researching online that this particular koala sanctuary had put in place many ethical practices to ensure the welfare of those under their care, and was in fact founded in 1927 as a place to take in injured and sick koalas. 

Following the furry meet-and-greet, we headed to Captain Burke Park, a nice space right under Brisbane's Story Bridge for some outdoor games and a barbecue of juicy hot dogs with an abundance of Tim Tams. We could also sit on some of the prepared picnic mats and admire the view from the park - really relaxing, probably a reflection of the Aussie way of life. Our team played frisbee, and it marked the most active I have ever been in ages. 

Day 4  (Case II)

And it's back to business! The second round of case was a 6-hour presentation format (or 5 hours and 45 minutes, to be exact) and the case company was the Credit Union Australia (CUA). The day started off with a visit to the office in the central business district before we headed back to the QUT campus to work on our presentations.

We rarely have photographs of the case-cracking process so this was quite pleasant to see - especially since we look like we're actually enjoying what we're doing (not posing at all, there's really no time for any of that). 

The slightly more serious duo. 

A glimpse of the timeline that we attempted to adhere strictly to, though unsuccessfully. Here, I wrote that we "must start compiling" by 2.30pm but the reality was closer to compiling just 1 minute before the actual submission - case is not for the faint-hearted, folks!

While we were a lot more comfortable with the traditional presentation format for this round, the case still proved to be a challenging one. This time, we were faced with the confusing concept of credit unions and a broad open-ended problem of targeting a new customer segment with new financial products, all accompanied by the nerve-wrecking time constraint. 

Somehow (with a lot of luck), we managed to come in first place in our division for this second case as well. At this point, we were ranked the top out of all 16 teams points-wise, how exciting! However, we knew that we couldn't be complacent because the third case was the most important one - we still had to win that to make it through to the finals. 

Day 5 (Case III)

This day just consisted of 12 hours straight of case-cracking. The case was on the business disruption of McGraw-Hill, which most of us would know as the traditional textbook publisher, though it has since branched out to offer other education solutions. In terms of strategic direction, this was also the least straightforward one out of all the cases. Though of course, with a longer preparation time, we typically fall prey to overthinking and second-guessing ourselves.

This case was unfortunately also the one that I was personally the most apprehensive about, but we just had to roll with it because it was show time the next day.  

Day 6

Just like clockwork, we woke up and made our way to the QUT campus to present our solutions for case three. While the presentation went well delivery-wise, the feedback that we received from the judges afterwards was pretty dismal, especially when compared to the ones we had received for the previous two rounds. 

After a nail-biting couple of hours, they announced the results for the third round and we placed first again! I couldn't believe that we had a three-time first-placing streak, and this also meant that we made it to the finals and were immediately ushered out into a holding room. By this point, we had already done whatever we could for this competition, and simply needed to deliver the presentation again to a larger audience. And so we did. 

Caught referring to the screen, yikes.

Fielding questions from the judges. 

And it's a wrap! Parting handshakes with the judges.

It was undoubtedly an honour to have been given the opportunity to present in front of the distinguished judges and the teams from all parts of the world. It was also so nice knowing that the rest of the squad back in Singapore was supporting us, some of them tuning in to catch our presentation via the live-stream on the AUBCC page. No matter what the outcome was going to be, we were happy with our performance and that's really all that matters. 

Awards dinner closing ceremony with some of our new friends from UNSW and Thammasat University!

Photobooth with our table buddies from Thammasat.

With our ambassador, without whom we wouldn't have been able to survive the week as well as we did! Thank you so much for being the most accommodating buddy ever, you're a real sweetheart. 

It was a great night with good food to cap off an eventful and exhausting week, and thankfully we also managed to get a little souvenir for NUS - we came in second place overall, and I couldn't be more proud of the team. Case competition outcomes are almost always unpredictable and I'm so grateful we managed to make it this far and attain a podium placing.  

Of course, huge congratulations to Indiana University for emerging as champions for AUBCC! 

And with that, it was back to enjoying the rest of the dinner, this time with a huge load lifted off our shoulders. Here's a series of cute team photos we took at the photobooth before heading back to our hotel room and knocking out for a good two hours (unexpectedly, which almost cost us our flight -  but hey, that's another story). 

Competing in such competitions is exhausting beyond belief, but incredibly fulfilling as well. This fulfillment doesn't exactly take the form of having one's strategies and solutions impact real companies (though I believe that's the goal) because realistically, a group of four undergraduates is not going to solve a problem that a board of directors have been cracking their heads over, in a mere 12 hours or less. It does, however, come through via the feeling you get when you're actually applying your business acumen and skill-sets in a high-intensity environment, an experience that is actually transferable into the real world too.

As always, immensely humbled by the opportunity, and excited for the next one! Thank you so much, team. It has been a real honour. 
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On Education

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

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At risk of sounding cliché, my relationship with formal education can only be described as a roller-coaster ride. While I typically find myself recalling all the lows, I acknowledge that there were times where I did thrive in this meritocratic system, most evidently in primary school and thankfully, rather last-minute at the A Levels. Indeed, I've been lucky enough to perform in the exams that seem to matter the most (though of course, in the larger scheme of things, they really don't). 

That said, I stand by the fact that academics has never been my strong suit. I'm not someone who does well naturally in standardized tests, and never prioritized working hard for academics either - though I've come to embrace the latter as a source of pride as it served as an indicator that I didn't allow myself to succumb to mainstream expectations of society. Of course, this came from a position of privilege where I was able to find other strengths that I valued in myself, which others valued too (i.e. still needing that affirmation from society anyway, just in alternative ways).

Speaking of privilege, saying that I struggled academically may seem like a bit of a stretch when looking at my educational background. Indeed, I have been fortunate enough to receive an exceptional education from top schools and a local university. "Aiyah, the last position in Raffles is probably still the first in some other school," was something I heard over and over again but honestly that felt like one hell of a lame excuse for poor academic performance. Nobody knew if that was actually true, and it just wasn't... a nice thing to believe in either, potentially further entrenching elitism in society.

Plus, experiences are relative. The external validation I received for my "academic prowess" from those who only saw the uniform I was wearing and not my actual GPA, wasn't going to negate the fact that I was drowning metaphorically. There's no denying that sinking feeling I felt in my gut after every mathematics paper I did in secondary school, the embarrassment of getting hauled up to meet the vice-principal because I was performing poorly (yes, this seriously happened), and the apprehension of showing my parents my grade cards (I might have just stopped showing it to them from secondary three onwards heh). These were all valid emotions.

Suffice to say, formal education had never been the most rosy experience (academics-wise, that is!) and I found myself subconsciously and mistakenly conflating the idea of learning with education. Due to my inability to produce positive education outcomes in school, learning started to feel like a chore - done merely as an exchange for a letter grade in my transcript, rather than something that would actually make me feel happy and contended doing.

In the most recent semester in university though, I experienced pure, unadulterated joy for learning for the first time in a long, long while. What was different this time? It marked the first semester I didn't have to clear any compulsory modules for my respective courses and I had semi-control over what I was going to study. Yes, I was still limited by the demands of my degrees but I had a bit more freedom this time to choose. I went ahead and picked modules that scared me, and that were not directly related or useful in whatever I'll be doing in the near future, simply to learn for learning's sake.

While not every module inspired me with the same intensity, I daresay I have never felt more energized in school. This was surprising because despite my overload every semester, this particular one was when I faced my heaviest workload ever of 29 modular credits (the typical workload is 20 credits!) Attending classes was immensely enjoyable, and credit goes to the inspiring professors and tutors I had the honour of meeting/ being in the presence of, especially those that taught me financial journalism, sex in the media, and communication for social change. Somehow, it also turned out to be the semester I performed the best in. Perhaps performance is truly intrinsically linked to passion.

It's a bittersweet feeling knowing that the next semester marks the final semester of my undergraduate studies. A part of me wishes I didn't rush the five years of study into four, but at the same time I'm also excited for what's ahead, and am glad that at least it's ending on a note where my mindset towards formal education is one of fondness.

Of course, this isn't going to mark the end of my journey as a student - and no, I'm not about to make  a cheesy reference to how life is about continuous learning (though I suppose it's not wrong to view it in that way too). I do have little dreams I still hope to accomplish, and so much more I want to learn about in a formal education setting. Heh, graduate school sometime in the future, perhaps? 
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A Final Farewell

Monday, December 16, 2019

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A Final Farewell 

Dressed inconspicuously in a loose black blouse and a pair of navy tights, Sandra walked hesitantly towards the HDB void deck. It was her first time back in years. This was a placed filled with memories of bicycle-riding lessons with Papa at six-years-old, which later functioned as an overnight shelter during her teenage years when she got thrown out of the house whenever she tried on Mama's dresses and heels. 

This time, the open space was temporarily walled with yellow tarp, indicating the demise of a neighbour living in the block. It also offered a semblance of privacy for those attending the wake. 

Beyond the bright partitions were the intermittent ringing of Taoist chants sung by monks, done to ensure a peaceful send-off for the deceased. Grief was muted by the cracking of peanut shells at every makeshift table, done to pass time as relatives kept vigil. 

As Sandra came within sight of the attendees, a split-second of silence fell amongst them. Then, murmurs in a mix of Hokkien and Mandarin ensued. 

"What's he doing here?" 

"He actually has the audacity to come back?" 

"Doubt he'll be able to leave in peace now." 

Seemingly unperturbed by the commotion, Sandra took a deep breath. Do it for Mama, do it for Mama. As she walked closer to the photograph displayed at the casket, she was reminded of the distinctive facial features of the deceased which matched her own – the same pair of eyes she had not seen in years, but which greeted her whenever she did her makeup in the mirror. 

Just then, a woman of around seventy years of age lunged at her in an embrace. "Thank you for coming, Papa will be so glad you came," the woman whispered. 

Breaking away from the hug, Sandra took a good look at Mama. Mama's eyes were brimming with tears – sad droplets from missing her husband, mixed with happy ones from seeing her child again. Her child was born as "Long Sheng", as masculine Chinese name that directly translates into "dragon-victory", but whose personal identity did not correspond to his assigned gender. 

Sandra stood in front of the casket and lit three sandalwood joss sticks. This was the first time she has appeared before her father as a transgender. As she bowed in his direction, she thought about how listless his embalmed body was, a far cry from her last interaction with him before she left home for good, where he vowed never to acknowledge her as his child, if she were to identify as female. She clenched her fists. Do it for Mama, do it for Mama. 

Slowly, the flames burned away the last bits of the incense sticks that Sandra placed in the brass urn. As she turned to leave, Mama grabbed her hand. 

Papa wanted you to have this." 

In Mama's hand was a gold locket with an old family photo within. Inscribed on the locket was a design of a phoenix, a Chinese mythological symbol for female grace. 


(Attempted a 500-word short story for a storytelling university module two semesters ago, and decided to post this here because it touches on a topic that means a lot to me.) 
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The Internship

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

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It's probably a tad ironic titling this post about my summer internship after the 2013 comedy film 'The Internship', based on the apparent dog-eat-dog nature of Google internships, because my experience was anything butthough hey, when else can you call your internship the internship? Despite not having watched the film and only making this claim based on viewing the trailer, an actual internship at Google is nothing like what the movie depicts. Rather than the portrayed hyper-competitive environment where interns are pitted against one another for a permanent job at the company, I found myself surrounded by the most encouraging, supportive and nurturing people in my twelve weeks there. 

Truly, summer this year has been nothing short of being one of the best experiences of my life and I am filled with immense gratitude for the opportunity. Even now, as I look back, my heart just bursts with moments of 'did-that-really-happen-to-me', and sheer excitement for the future. In my previous post, I explored some of my motivations behind wanting to work at Google. And in this one, I shall attempt to cover how the internship really was for me in three major aspects–the programme, the culture and people, and of course, the work!

Disclaimer: All views expressed below are my own. 

The internship programme 

For what it's worth, I never felt alone throughout the course of my internship. In a couple of my previous workplaces, I had been the only intern. While that comes with its fair share of pros, it can get quite lonely at times. At Google, the programme made me feel supported and equipped to do well. For all the ambiguity that the company prides itself for (which was really evident in the work), the internship was really structured with support systems in place whenever we needed it.

Not only were we exposed to the leaders of the company through bi-weekly talks and occasional workshops, there were also opportunities for us to bond with fellow interns and take charge of planning activities for the batch. I was part of the intern offsite planning committee, which cumulated into a day of fun activities for all the interns in the Southeast Asia region (those not based in Singapore were flown over), and was one of the highlights of summer.

With the intern offsite planning committee onboard our yacht! :) Honestly loved our weekly meetings leading up to this as it made for a good break from "regular" work. 

All the activities allowed me to get to know several of my fellow interns on a personal level, and we hung out a lot–think morning breakfasts, the occasional lunches, mid-day pantry raids, after-work karaoke sessions (both outside the office and in the office's jamming studio), and trips to the Geylang Serai night bazaar to bring our non-Singaporean friends around. We got really close really fast, which was to be expected from the frequency we were all seeing each other, which wasn't a bad thing! It was comforting to know that there was a bunch of people I could always turn to at work. 

The breakfast gang–we would be in the office really early just to grab breakfast together. 

Taking advantage of the photogenic nature of our office in between meetings!

I also appreciated the regular check-ins and formal evaluations we had with the People Ops (i.e. HR) team and my intern host (i.e. my direct manager)–it made me a lot more certain about my progress for my assigned project, and also gave me a sensing of how I was performing. They always came from a non-judgmental place, which gave me the confidence to improve myself. 

The culture & people 

Imagine meeting your team for the very first time on your second day of being in the office, and then getting whisked off to a cooking competition after work and having to cook chilli crab from scratch. Or getting invited to chill out at a rooftop barbecue at my intern host's place in the second week of work.

Google's open work culture is not a myth. Yet, while I recognized my privilege of having an intern host who made sure I was never left out of anything, it was admittedly slightly–no I mean extremely–unnerving for me at the start, being a super introvert by nature. In the first two weeks of my internship, I was completely overstimulated by the number of people I was meeting and speaking to in a day.

For a while, I contemplated voicing out my concerns about feeling overwhelmed to my host but later realized it would probably be unhealthier to keep everything in. He took to my disclosure so kindly, and alongside several full-timers on the team, took the time to share with me how they felt when they first joined Google and how they understood it might be "too much" especially for an undergraduate. It was comforting to hear, but at the same time I knew I had to put in a lot more effort on my end to assimilate into the culture.

To ease myself into it, I took full advantage of a coffee chat directory prepared by the People Ops team, which is essentially a compilation of Googlers who indicated that they were open to speaking to interns about anything under the sun. It may seem odd that I tried to tackle how intimidated I felt by reaching out to meet even more people. But in hindsight, it was probably psychologically beneficial for me to take full control of who I was meeting, and to lead and steer conversations. It was also helpful getting to know Googlers personally as people–humans are a lot less scary once you associate a story to each one of them. And truth be told, I genuinely enjoyed learning about what everyone else was doing both within and outside the company.

It's pretty insane how a mere intern was welcome to reach out to anyone in the company to grab a coffee with, and be 99% sure that it was going to happen. I appreciated that immensely, because I met some of the most wonderful people through my coffee chats, who dished out brilliant life advice or a much-needed mid-day laugh. They were always so encouraging–one even pointed out how much more confident I was towards the end of my internship, in comparison to when he first met me in my second week. It was evident how sincerely they cared for us as interns, which I personally felt was indicative of how employees treated each other as well.

Of course, there were also things like Memegen, an internal meme generator which I spent lazy Wednesday afternoons scrolling through, and TGIF or 'Thank Google It's Friday', one of the hallmarks of Google's culture. Apart from the themed food and free booze from 4pm every Friday, the weekly all-hands that we could watch online or stream live from the Mountain View office allowed everyone to get up to speed with the latest developments in the company. From my perspective, this initiative was pretty successful in making employees feel involved, appreciated, and celebrated–which probably translates to an increase in motivation at work. 

A pride-themed TGIF with rainbow coloured food!

The work 

From the onset, I knew that all the glitzy employee welfare benefits that Google was known for, had the huge potential to tamper with my evaluation of the actual work I was doing there. And in the long run, that'd be dangerous. Massage sessions and amazing food, or even monetary compensation, would not be able to sugar-coat the actual work I was doing in a sustainable manner if I genuinely hated it. I needed to view the work as work in itself.

And boy, I actually do love it. Without revealing too much of what I was actually doing, I'd just like to say how lucky I feel to have been a part of the Next Billion Users' Google Pay team. These products are actually built in the Singapore office and being able to see a product through conception to execution was an eye-opener, to say the least. This was also the first time I tried my hand at product marketing, which thwarted all preconceived notions I had about marketing typically only coming in only as a publicity method after the product has already been created. Admittedly, I used to doubt the role marketing played in the larger scheme of a company's operations, but this internship exposed me to how important and fulfilling it can actually be.

No lie though, the work had an insanely steep learning curve. I didn't have day-to-day tasks assigned to me, and it was more of a prompt: to figure out what we were going to do for a particular product in a particular geography. This "product" has not even been created and I had complete freedom in deciding what was going into it. It was insanely ambiguous and I might have only properly understood my project about one month into the internship–which is hilarious when I look back on it now, but was undoubtedly a major source of anxiety for me then. When I did eventually carve out a doable scope for my project, work became a lot more enjoyable.

On a personal level, I was hit with imposter syndrome real hard throughout my twelve weeks there–or at least my host was certain I was. I still stand by the fact that I am an actual imposter because acknowledging that I have the syndrome would mean that I am convinced the doubts I have about myself are unwarranted. Yet, my host was the most patient and encouraging mentor ever, who gave me so many opportunities, played to my strengths and interests, and gave my work exposure to the larger team as well. He saw so much more in me than I ever saw in myself, and I cannot be more thankful that he chose me as his intern and continued supporting me throughout my internship and beyond.

I am incredibly humbled to have been given the opportunity to work at Google, something I never, in my wildest dreams, thought I'd be able to do. Summer was undoubtedly 1% sitting at my desk searching for the right answers, and 99% 'I'm feeling lucky!' And I can barely sit still for what's to come in the near future. 
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Why Google

Monday, October 28, 2019

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Think of a tech geek. Then think of the opposite. That's me!

I'm the person who presses 'Ctrl-Alt-Delete' the moment my computer screen freezes, and if all else fails, force-shuts-down anything and everything. I'm the person who prefers the look and feel (and smell!) of a paperback book to an e-book. I'm the person who's typically classified as a 'laggard' in the 'diffusion of innovation' model, a theory commonly used to describe technology adoption within society.

If anyone told me a year ago that I'd be working for a technology company in the summer, I would have been in complete disbelief. If I'm being honest, entering the tech industry was one of the last things on my mind for this simple reason: technology is hella scary to me. It's this intimidating, black box of unfathomable code and complex jargon.

Above all, and perhaps the most compelling reason behind my fear of technology is the fact that it disrupted my favourite industryjournalism and news media! It's the industry that I've envisioned myself entering for the longest time. Despite the newsroom's huge and growing reliance on technology, the latter is typically spoken of as this huge, nasty cloud of grey that descended upon journalists and started stealing their livelihoods away from them. Newsrooms weren't prepared for the disruption, and till today still find it difficult to monetize their digital content or convince people to pay for news that may be otherwise be found free-of-charge on alternative platforms.

So, was me applying for an internship at Google a case of "if you can't beat them, join them"? Maybe, possibly. Yet, a part of me knew that this unwarranted fear of technology was really borne out of a real awe of the sheer power that it had over and on society and people, especially in today's day and ageand I secretly wanted to be a part of that.

But with all that said, did all of the above seriously cross my mind when I was applying for an internship? No, because everything started out with a complete gung-ho moment when I chanced upon the call for applications online and decided to apply with a one-pager that supposedly encapsulates who I am. Google doesn't request for cover letters, so a resume is all you've got which made for a really speedy (read: impulsive) process on my end.

Did I think I would get it? Not at all. Yet, here I am, adding on to all the 'How I got into Google' articles and YouTube vlogs that's floating around the Internet. As much as I want this writing exercise to serve as a way for me to reflect on my journey to the company and to revisit my motivations, I'm hoping it can also help someone out there in his/ her application process, especially for fellow business or communciations undergraduates who may not have considered a career in technology prior.

And my advice to anyone who has reached out to me, be it on LinkedIn or in person, would be to know your motivations. It's an open secret that Google's very visible welfare benefits are off the charts, but being able to have a massage in the middle of the day or having free bacon and eggs everyday for breakfast shouldn't be what excites you the most when you think about working at the tech giant. More so, it should be about the work that you can potentially be doing, or perhaps the unique corporate culture that cannot be found anywhere else.  

That said, I get it. I wasn't completely certain of my own motivations at the very beginning either. I didn't think too much about my application after the online assessment, and it was only when I received an email informing me that I was shortlisted for a phone interview, did the possibility of working at Google become real. And it was it was then that I started thinking about my own version of 'why Google'. 

Sure, I was the biggest fan of the search engine (my boyfriend can attest to that, because I use it to debunk all the fake news he enjoys spreading to me), and I spend most of my waking hours on YouTube (an exaggeration, but still). But being a loyal user of these sites isn't a convincing enough reason why I should be on the other side of these products. However, my aha!-moment came when I read the company's corporate mission. It was then that I immediately knew how much I wanted to be a part of it. 

Let's backtrack a little: my main motivations behind wanting to pursue a career in journalism—other than because I absolutely love writingstems from my desire to push out accurate, timely information to the masses in a hopefully unbiased perspective. I have always felt strongly about the power of information. It makes people become more informed, which in turn helps them make the right decisions that will go on to affect their lives. It could be as huge as reporting on global politics, to even the movie review section that may convince someone to watch a poignant film and reflect about their own life. Providing useful and impactful information to people has pretty much always been my unofficial life goal. 

And if you think about Google's mission, it's kind of the same thing: To organise the world's information, and make it universally accessible and useful. I know, I sound like the company's spokesperson at this point but this is honestly a real, unfiltered recount of the process I went through to realize how much the stars aligned for me. Prior to this point, I was slowly giving up my dream of pursuing journalism (due in part to my countless rejections from newsrooms around the world, and a hesitation to join the local media) and didn't think I'd be able to find a company that I could resonate with. 

Of course, even with that, I needed to get through the next few rounds of interviewsconsisting of a phone call, a Google Hangouts chat, and a on-site interview with my would-be manager. I think having my motivations clearly figured out worked to my advantage, because it didn't feel like a chore researching on the company in preparation for the interviews, and I felt extremely at-home speaking to all my interviewers. 

And that sums up the why's, and a bit of the how's, of me somehow spending my summer in Google. I'd consider myself proof that you really don't have to be a tech geek to be working in a tech company. All it takes is a bit of passion for technology, and a belief in what it can do for people. 
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Copenhagen, Denmark

Monday, May 13, 2019

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Every international case competition experience I have comes with a whole slew of thoughts and emotions - being awe-struck by the quality of teams there, being able to witness how vastly different the way business is being taught and thought about across the world, but above all, feeling real thankful that I even get such opportunities at all. And heading to Copenhagen for the CBS Case Competition this year during recess week this semester (24 February to 2 March) was no different. 

In fact, I daresay that this was one of the most enjoyable competitions for me personally thus far. Despite not having much time to explore much of the city, or not necessarily liking every single one of the activities planned out for us (this is just a personal preference though, because the CBS organizing committee is really amazing and passionate), full credit should be given to one of the best teams I have had the honour of working together with.

Thank you, team. You guys actually make 24-hour trainings fun - think late night suppers and West Coast Park playtimes. And despite the crazy format of this competition we pulled through and I'm honestly so inspired by all of you as individuals, and friends.

Speaking of crazy formats, let's just get that out of the way for this post. The CBS Case Competition is, I believe, one of the more well-known competitions in the case circuit - and for good reason too. Heading there, we really didn't know what to expect other than the unexpected, and they gave us just that. Thirty-six hours of case-cracking, with a 4-minute pitch of preliminary ideas halfway through, and capping everything off with a presentation (with no Q&A) plus a unique boardroom-style conversation, each to two separate groups of judges - nothing about this was "normal", in all senses of the word.

While we were caught off guard by the 4-minute pitch and the boardroom-style formats, I really appreciated the surprise nature of this case and how challenging it was. The case company was also pretty interesting - it's MAERSK, belonging to the shipping industry that I barely know anything about. The thirty-six hours were painful due to a severe sleep deprivation and having to work out the sheer technicalities of the case, but I think we emerged pretty happy with our deliverables.

Eventually, we did not make it to the finals. This was probably attributed to our less-than-stellar performance during the boardroom. However, I'm still unbelievably proud of this team - we placed second and first for the pitch and the presentation rounds respectively within our division. At least we found comfort knowing that we were still good at what we trained for.

And congrats to CBS for emerging as champions!

Now to the non-competition bits of the trip. While we didn't get to explore Copenhagen much, one of the things that we managed to do was to visit the Nyhavn Canal - multiple times, in fact, because it's just a 15-minute walk away from the hotel we were staying in. Such a beautiful, postcard-perfect place. 

This marked the first time we visited the canal - with Prof! After this photo was taken, we headed to grab some dinner at the Torvehallerne market. I only wished we could explore that place longer because it has such a huge selection of food, both fresh and prepared. Everything looked so good there. We had to head back to the hotel though, as there was a welcome speech and they were bringing us to a kick-off party at the ZOO Bar.  

The next morning, I had arranged to meet Ragini (who happened to travel to Copenhagen with her friends the same time I was there - she's on exchange currently) before the day's events. At around 7.45am I left the hotel, and took a nice leisurely stroll to the Nyhavn canal. It's even more breathtaking in the morning because of the lack of tourists crowding everywhere. 

Morning jogs. 

Hello sun rays. 

It felt quite surreal meeting her in the middle of her exchange, and more importantly in the middle of Copenhagen - how coincidental! We had a short catch-up, and thank you so much for the belated birthday gift as well. 

Heading back to the hotel. 

Cute bicycle shop near our hotel. The cycling culture in Copenhagen was pretty amazing, also probably well-received due to the infrastructure in place. There were bicycle lanes and bicycle racks everywhere, and I was rather shocked to see that many of the bicycles weren't even locked when parked. To me, that's telling of the trust the people have for one another, and that's so pure and unheard of even in Singapore's low-crime rates.

For that day, we had team-building activities on campus, where we got to interact with the competitors from other business schools. We also learnt how to perform a traditional Danish folk dance, which was pretty fun I must admit. It was a pretty chill day ending with dinner and a movie night on campus - where I fell asleep, and could not wait to get back to the hotel to knock out for the night. 

Copenhagen canal tour with the team the next day! 

The canal tour was great as we got to see most of the famous landmarks in the city without having to walk - caught a glimpse of The Little Mermaid, the palace, and the iconic Black Diamond Library. We also saw the MAERSK head office, pointed out by our ambassador, though at this point we didn't know that it was going to be the case company yet. 

Dinner that night was something special, where we got to dine within the premises of Carlsberg Breweries (i.e. Copenhagen/ Denmark's pride and joy, at least when it comes to the beer department), together with Prince Joachim and Princess Marie, who are a part of the Danish royal family. While they were not within my line of sight, it was interesting to be taught the various etiquette rules we had to observe throughout dinner. And we did end the night with a group photo taken with them! 

Not the photo with the Prince and Princess, but hey, I love this team.

There was an afterparty that night at the LA Tequilla Bar - we stayed for about 10 minutes before braving the cold winds to walk back to our hotel. 

The next day, we had another tour around Copenhagen, this time on foot. One of the highlights was climbing up the Rundetaarn, or the round tower, and looking out to see the rest of the city. However, the real highlight of the day was sneaking away during lunch to get churros with my team. This was a pretty random stall but it was so good. Think freshly-fried warm churros slathered in rich melted chocolate - the perfect respite from the chilly weather, as well as my fully maxed-out social interaction capacity. 

We also visited The Glyptotek, a really gorgeous museum, where we got to see mummies and other artifacts! However, we were really tired by that point and did not get to fully appreciate most of the exhibitions on display. At least, I didn't. We had burgers for dinner that night, and headed back to the hotel where the case writers briefed us about the format of the case. It was nice to get back into the groove - for most of us, it felt like way too many days of fun and games!

The next two days were taken up by case-cracking, before the presentations on Friday. I was blown away by the final presentations, especially Queen's (as usual), and this time, I really did not mind being a part of the audience because I learnt so much from the winning teams. After the finals, we were supposed to go back to the hotel to freshen up for the Award Dinner. However, our team decided to quickly head out to get our last churros of the trip from the famous stall along the Nyhavn - Rajissimo! 


And the day ended with the Award Dinner, which according to my teammates was the "first time" they heard me "talk so much". 

Missing one! 

The next morning, three of us decided to wake up early to do some last-minute shopping before catching our flight back to Singapore. We strolled around Copenhagen, but mainly found ourselves buying chocolates from supermarkets because there weren't many shops open so early. The two guys also waited for me to finish my McMuffin just because I wanted to try the McDonald's in Denmark. Before heading back for brunch with the rest of the competitors, we grabbed a hotdog from a random stand - it looked pretty underwhelming but tasted amazing! Ahh the fried onions are to die for. 

Our final team photo outside the hotel with our ambassador, before we made our way to the airport. 

Truly, I can't stress enough how immensely humbled I am by the opportunities I get to compete on case competitions abroad, not to mention how this trip actually marks my first time stepping on European soil! There's something really special about travelling overseas for a purpose, as opposed to going abroad for purely leisurely reasons. Undoubtedly, the company for this trip also made everything - even case cracking - a lot more enjoyable and memorable. Thanks so much for being a part of my third ICC! 

 Excited :-)
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